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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                       227
one partner she would lose her skill, and besides, there
was no fun sticking to only one partner.
Meresyev accepted the terms without reservation.
Zinochka tossed her fiery head and there and then,
skilfully moving her pretty feet, demonstrated the first
steps. At one time Meresyev had shown great agility in
dancing the Russkaya and the old dances the fire-brigade
band used to play in the public park in Kamyshin. He had
a sense of rhythm and quickly learned the merry art. The
difficulty he was faced with now was to learn to ma-
noeuvre not living, flexible, mobile feet, but leather con-
traptions strapped to his calves. Superhuman effort, an
intense exertion of will-power was required to put life
and motion into the heavy and unwieldy artificial feet.
But he compelled them to obey him. Every new step
he learned—every glissade, parade, serpent and point—
the intricate technique of ball-room dancing, theorised
by the celebrated Paul Sudakovsky and provided with
an imposing and euphonious terminology, filled him with
the utmost joy, made him as jolly as a sandboy. Having
learnt it, he would raise his teacher off the floor and
whirl her round in celebration of his triumph over him-
self. And nobody, least of all his teacher, could suspect
what pain these diverse, intricate steps caused him, the
price he paid for learning to dance. Nobody saw that
when he wiped the sweat off his smiling face with a care-
less gesture, he also wiped away unbidden tears.
One day, he limped to his room completely worn out
but happy.
"I'm learning to dance!" he triumphantly announced
to Major Struchkov, who was standing thoughtfully at
the window, outside of which the summer's day was
quietly waning, and through which the last rays of the
setting sun could be seen glistening like gold among the
tree tops.
The major made no response.
"And ril succeed!" Meresyev added resolutely, throw-
ing off his artificial feet with relief and vigorously scratch-
ing his numbed legs with his finger-nails.
Struchkov kept his face to the window; his shoulders
heaved and he uttered strange sounds, as if he were
sobbing. Silently, Alexei crept under his blanket. Some-